I have spent the last week trying to condense four intensive days of immersion within the circus universe down to 2000 words, following the Unpack The Arts residency at Humorologie festival in Belgium.  I have unpacked the ideas offered around contemporary circus arts and, as with the suitcase I took with me, strewn the contents around my previously tidy life!

In a group comprised of writers and journalists from 8 countries, we saw 8 performances, from companies based in 5 different nations, and made up of goodness knows how many nationalities.  We spent time in discussion with many of them – Bram Dobbelaere, co-founder of Company Pol & Freddy; Jiří Kohout and Andrej Rády, who perform with Cirk La Putyka; performer-turned director Juliana Neves, who produced Jump or Fall; esteemed director Aurélien Bory of Company 111 – and with other professionals working within the circus sphere (festival co-ordinator Koen Allary, circus critic Liv Laveyne, Belgian MP and festival founder Bart Caron, dramaturg Bauke Lievens), all facilitated by Yohann Floch, co-ordinator of the Circostrada network for circus and street arts.

Whew.  Just seeing it written down is tiring!

Whilst we all came to learn more about what ‘circus’ means today, it quickly became apparent that there are no definites here.  Our cultural backgrounds impact on the way we interpret the performances and the information we’re offered.  We all appreciate and value different elements, often with the group split in two over whether or not a performance was enjoyable.  We’re all right, and all our voices are valid in the broadening discourse around the circus arts.  No two audience members are the same, so critics shouldn’t all sing from the same hymn sheet; otherwise the audience is lost, and an art founded on accessibility and popular connection dies.  In the Subtopia residency earlier this year, Swedish dance critic Örjan Abrahamsson advised the participants to forget about a specific language: ‘Just open your eyes and be honest with yourselves. ‘

My article will appear here soon: http://unpackthearts.eu/articles (But, in the meantime, enjoy what participants of the previous residencies have had to say!)

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